As Massachusetts voters continue to wait for access to the legal cannabis marketplace they approved in 2016, it looks like it could be years before they will be able to spark up a joint with friends in public.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) approached the topic of public consumption spaces — or cannabis cafes — again on Tuesday night. There was a recurring theme echoed throughout the night: No matter what happens, it’s going to take a significant amount of time to get anything operational. The CCC had been approved by law to start licensing spaces for consumption right off the bat, but pending their research on other states, a decision should come next year on how that will actually happen.
As reported by Boston radio station WBUR, CCC Executive Director Shawn Collins presented commissioners on Tuesday with an internal study of other state and municipal codes on consumption spaces. Collins admitted the research on the topic was a bit light. He also noted while Massachusetts does license smoking establishments where customers can purchase and smoke their tobacco, the definitions governing them were too narrow to try and put everything under a similar regulatory umbrella.
“While the concept of smoking bars would not be new in Massachusetts, marijuana does not currently fit within the legal definition, therefore, social consumption may be limited to ingestion via electronic vaping and edibles,” Collins told the commissioners.
Another issue that arose is that, even if Massachusetts decided to license vaporizer-only establishments with no smoking, they would still have to fit into the guidelines of a recent law that raised the age of tobacco sales to 21. While bumping up how old you need to be to buy tobacco, they also created more restrictions on the public use of e-cigs.
While some on the commission thought understanding the dynamics of working around that law would be the most pressing issue as they moved forward on social use locations, others in the commission believed the biggest issue was that cities and towns did not even have a mechanism to opt into social use if they wanted to.
“There is no workable process currently under the law by which a city or town can allow this, and that needs to happen before a facility can open,” Commissioner Shaleen Title said.
“So I would say it’s a matter of years and right now there would need to be a change in the legislation before cities and towns can move forward,” Title said.
Recently, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker attempted to create a path through the ballot box for municipalities to allow social consumption, but the supplemental budget that it was attached to didn’t advance and now sit in committee. This was a big blow to smoking pot in public any time soon.
The commission gave staff a list of questions they want to come back to with timelines for answers next week
“Twenty percent of the public uses marijuana … this is not some new scary group of people that’s going to start doing some new scary thing,” Title told her peers. “In 10 years, this is going to be as normal as when you go to the Boston Common and see a movie and you can buy a drink. But it’s not happening tomorrow.”
Title then proposed a working group of local officials who are trying to make responsible adult social use a reality in their towns. The commission accepted the proposal. Title spoke with Cannabis Now about what she thinks that will look like in the early going.
“My hope is that the working group will be small and very focused,” Title said. “I believe we should collaborate as partners with the towns and cities that wish to implement social consumption, with the goal to determine what a pilot program would look like.”
Local activists are not thrilled with continued delays from the Baker administration in implementing the CCC’s suggestions from earlier this year around social use and consumption.
“It’s infuriating, a bait and switch and the blame lies solely with Beacon Hill, governor Charlie Baker & speaker Bob DeLeo who rewrote the law,” said Mike Crawford, who has spent 20 years reforming cannabis laws and is a popular local political pundit via his show The Young Jurks. “They kept complaining that the people didn’t know what they voted on and that the law needed to be fixed. Well, this is the result.”
Crawford believes activists may return to the more direct measures that helped lead to marijuana decriminalization a decade ago in Massachusetts, and everything that happened after.
“Locals who are being priced out of this industry should protest our elected officials, especially during the governor’s re-election campaign,” Crawford said. “He screwed the small locals who wish to be a part of this legal industry. Having no social consumption licensing ensures a raging black market and more law enforcement busts of the farmers’ markets and sessions that happen every weekend… license or bust them? We voted to license.”
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